Thursday, March 30, 2006

2334 Why are librarians' salaries low?

A woman in the coffee shop asked me this today. Actually, we were talking about women veterinarians, doctors, lawyers and pharmacists. When I mentioned that librarians' salaries were low compared to other professions that required a master's degree, she gushed about how much she loved librarians and how much help she's received. But she didn't know additional education was necessary to be a librarian.

There are people needing promotion and tenure to study this, but here's my take. Librarians have no organization to represent their own interests. Oh, they have lots of organizations--out the wazoo--but just look at the names: American Library Association; Medical Library Association; Association of College and Research Libraries; California Library Association. Do you know what my husband's professional organization is called? The American Institute of Architects. Get it? It is representing ARCHITECTS. People, not government entities or buildings. And although I'm sure it leans left like most professional organizations, I haven't heard that the AIA is trying to get President Bush impeached while they redesign cities in Mississippi as service projects.

"Librarians and library workers are under-valued, and most people, whether members of the public, elected officials, faculty, corporate executives, or citizen board members, have little or no idea of the complexity of the work we do." from California Library Association web site

In my opinion, this inclusion of “library workers” in all attempts to get the professional, degreed salaried librarians paid a fair wage worthy of a master's degree is part of the problem. “Library workers” may have high school degrees or they may have PhDs in Victorian Poetry or Trombone Performance, but they are not degreed librarians. This may explain why people (even librarians) believe the degree isn’t important, and so the salaries can stay low. Anybody can do it, right? Just ask the ALA (which spins its wheels in political, i.e. federal and state, battles).

Automotive technicians who have attended trade schools and passed licensing requirements, don’t concern themselves with the pay grades of those who enter the field without those credentials and learn on the job; licensed hair stylists who have attended school and met state board requirements don’t lobby to have the nail technicians upgraded to their pay scale; Registered nurses generally don’t busy themselves upgrading the lab techs or LPNs no matter how much they need them; elementary school teachers do not include lunch room supervisors, classroom aides or library aides in their salary negotiations even though they'd be hard pressed to educate students without them; architects may employ draftsmen and CAD operators, but no construction documents ever require a stamp from a draftsman.

You can't run a library without the clerks and paraprofessionals, but at Ohio State, we would have had to close down the library if we lost our student employees, too. Increasingly, librarians are losing ground to their own IT staff. Even techie types can't keep up. While the librarians worry about budgets, personnel development, diversity workshops for staff, building codes, new fields that need to be represented in the collection, presentations for boards and committees, licensing restrictions and agreements on digital publications, copyright issues, turn-key systems that can be used statewide in libraries twice as large or half the size, etc., Jane Q. Public sits down at the computer and thinks, "It's all free on the internet; so who needs a library?"

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